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Pope in interview: Pandemic showing forth the throw-away culture, as Paul VI warned

POPE PALM SUNDAY VIRUS
Alberto PIZZOLI / POOL / AFP
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In long interview with UK magazine, pope says his major concern is how to be closer to the people. Urges us to learn from history and literature.

In an extensive interview with The Tablet published April 8, Pope Francis discusses how he’s living the lockdown, and what God is calling us to in these troubled times.

In a question about government policies in response to the virus, the Holy Father spoke about how people are sacrificed for money.

He affirmed the interviewer’s observation that some governments have taken measures to protect vulnerable populations. But, he added, “we’re realizing that all our thinking, like it or not, has been shaped around the economy. In the world of finance it has seemed normal to sacrifice [people], to practice a politics of the throwaway culture, from the beginning to the end of life.”

By way of example, the pope spoke of “pre-natal selection,” noting how unusual it is now to see people with Down Syndrome, since when the condition is detected during pregnancy, “they are binned.”

As well, “It’s a culture of euthanasia, either legal or covert, in which the elderly are given medication but only up to a point.”

The pope said that Paul VI was prophetic in this regard.

What comes to mind is Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. The great controversy at the time was over the [contraceptive] pill, but what people didn’t realize was the prophetic force of the encyclical, which foresaw the neo-Malthusianism which was then just getting underway across the world. Paul VI sounded the alarm over that wave of neo-Malthusianism. We see it in the way people are selected according to their utility or productivity: the throwaway culture.

Right now, the homeless continue to be homeless. A photo appeared the other day of a parking lot in Las Vegas where they had been put in quarantine. And the hotels were empty. But the homeless cannot go to a hotel. That is the throwaway culture in practice.

Once again showing his love for literature, the pope makes several references to great works throughout the interview. He refers to one of his favorite novels, The Betrothed, set in the plague of Milan in 1630.

Drawing from a scene in that novel, the pope affirms, “The people of God need their pastor to be close to them, not to over-protect himself. The people of God need their pastors to be self-sacrificing, like the Capuchins, who stayed close.”

This comment reiterated what the pope said was coming to him in prayer, his “major concern” right now, which is to “accompany and be closer to the people of God.”

In this regard, he mentioned his daily live-streaming of his morning Mass, and the extraordinary “urbi et orbi” of March 27, as well as the “step-up in activities of the office of papal charities, attending to the sick and hungry.”

Not our first plague

Pope Francis has often insisted on the importance of what he describes as “memory” — keeping in mind how God has been close to us, as the Chosen People do with, for example, the yearly celebration of Passover.

The pope says that having in mind the history of God’s faithfulness keeps our hope alive. But he warns that we too often forget.

In this interview, he noted our “selective memory.” He spoke, by way of example, of the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Normandy landing. “It was one big celebration. It’s true that it marked the beginning of the end of dictatorship, but no one seemed to recall the 10,000 boys who remained on that beach,” he lamented.

Similarly, he said the first centenary of WWI brought him to tears. “I cried, thinking of Benedict XV’s phrase ‘inutile strage’ (“senseless massacre”), and the same happened to me at Anzio on All Souls’ Day, thinking of all the North American soldiers buried there, each of whom had a family, and how any of them might have been me.”

The pope decried the populism that he says he sees in Europe, and that make it “all too easy to remember Hitler’s speeches,” and said we need to remember Virgil, and know that “memory will come to our aid.”

This is not humanity’s first plague; the others have become mere anecdotes. We need to remember our roots, our tradition which is packed full of memories. In the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, the First Week, as well as the “Contemplation to Attain Love” in the Fourth Week, are completely taken up with remembering. It’s a conversion through remembrance. … [L]et us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were. 

Francis suggested learning from Dostoyevsky’s short novel, Notes from the Underground, when one prisoner, seeing how the employees are treating the body of a prisoner who had just died, says: “‘Enough! He too had a mother!’ We need to tell ourselves this often: that poor person had a mother who raised him lovingly. Later in life we don’t know what happened. But it helps to think of that love he once received through his mother’s hope.”

We disempower the poor. We don’t give them the right to dream of their mothers. They don’t know what affection is; many live on drugs. And to see them can help us to discover the piety, the pietas, which points towards God and towards our neighbor.

In other sections of the interview, the pope speaks about the Church as an institution, and how it is the Holy Spirit who keeps the healthy tension between institution and the “disorder” of the charisms. He suggested learning about how the Spirit does this by reading the Acts of the Apostles.

In this regard, he notes how canon law is to serve the Church’s mission.

As well, the pope speaks of the plight of the elderly, in the pandemic, but also in normal times.

Read the whole interview here.

 

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